UCC representatives join thousands in Germany for ecumenical ‘Kirchentag’ gathering
A group of United Church of Christ members, clergy and national staff made the journey to Nuremberg, Germany, this month to join with over 60,000 participants for the five-day celebration called Kirchentag, held June 7-11.
Founded in 1949 as a movement of Protestant lay people seeking to recognize their Christian faith independent from the official state church, Kirchentag has grown to become a much-celebrated event for practicing faith, engaging in deep discussion and building community with those across the country and the world.
Kirchentag takes place every two years. Although this was the first in-person gathering of the event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was not the first Kirchentag that UCC representatives have attended.
UCC attendance at Kirchentag goes hand-in-hand with the long history of partnership and church communion, or Kirchengemeinschaft, that has been built between the UCC and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) beginning in the 1980s and continuing today.
This partnership was visible in the group that collaborated in the months leading up to Kirchentag to prepare a series of events, a worship service and a booth in the exhibit hall.
“It was such a joy to experience the deep UCC/EKD connection in person, and to witness the widespread love and respect for this collaboration shown by those who visited our booth,” said UCC Associate General Minister the Rev. Traci Blackmon, one of UCC representatives present.
In addition to Blackmon, others from the UCC attending Kirchentag included:
- The Rev. Greg Bain, a retired pastor and member at St. Mark’s UCC in New Albany, Ind., and representing the Indiana-Kentucky Conference
- The Rev. Carly Gaeth, licensed minister serving New Hope UCC in Jackson, Wis., and Faith UCC in Slinger, Wis., representing the Wisconsin Conference
- Jessica Quinn, online communications specialist for the UCC’s Washington, D.C. office
- Annette Schroer, representing the Heartland Conference
- The Rev. Joyce Schroer, retired pastor and member at Trinity UCC in Wooster, Ohio
- The Rev. David Charles Smith, pastor of Jordan UCC in Allentown, Pa., and his wife, Gayle Smith, representing the Pennsylvania Southeast and Penn Northeast Conferences
- The Rev. Martha Koenig Stone, pastor of Henrietta UCC in Henrietta, N.Y., and co-chair of the EKD forum of the UCC, and her husband, Randall Stone, professor of political science at the University of Rochester
The UCC attendees were welcomed by, and worked in collaboration with, a group from the EKD including: the Rev. Ute Hedrich, executive secretary, EKD; Elga Zachau, chair of the UCC forum of the EKD; and Susanne Dzieran, Wolfgang Dzieran, Ulrike Bischoff, Elisabeth George and Katamba Charles Kazaku.
The partnership expanded with the inclusion of Adele Halliday, anti-racism and equity lead for The United Church of Canada.
“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to represent The United Church of Canada at this gathering, and to continue to deepen the relationships and partnerships between the EKD, The United Church of Canada, and the United Church of Christ,” said Halliday.
The time is now
Each year, the programming for Kirchentag is built around a central theme. This year the theme was “Jetzt ist die Zeit,” or “Now is the Time.”
That theme was apparent in the opening worship, in the more than 2,000 events that filled the week and in the conversations happening across the city, particularly concerning the topics of the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis.
The UCC contributed to the program and the theme through a series of events as well as a presence in the “Market of Possibilities” exhibit hall.
In a discussion, Quinn and Stone offered insight on the UCC’s identity as a Just Peace Church and held a conversation with German partners on what it means to be active makers of peace while also seeking justice amid global conflict.
‘We are in this thing together’
Rev. Blackmon spoke on a panel of global faith leaders, “Theology Between Crisis and Catastrophe.”
“A life with God cannot be devoid of hope,” Blackmon said during the panel. “I believe that our obligation is to teach a faith that can withstand the challenges of life, to teach a faith that does not amplify a God of favoritism and replace the God of favor, to teach a faith that teaches us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, and that we are in this thing together whether we like it, or one another, or not.”
Blackmon and Halliday also held a workshop in a crowded classroom on the topic, “Black Lives Still Matter: Deepening our Commitment to Racial Justice Ecumenically.” Blackmon challenged attendees with a question: “Not only do Black lives still matter, but do they matter to the church?”
Halliday listed the workshop as a highlight of her week, noting that it was “a collaborative effort to explore the different ways that anti-Black racism manifests itself in Canada and the U.S.A. in relation to Germany and the global church.”
A ‘spiritual encounter’
Members of the group felt moved by the spirit of Kirchentag and the community that formed there.
“Kirchentag 2023 was a deeply spiritual encounter that served as the culmination of months of prayerful preparation,” recounted Blackmon. “My favorite space was the ‘Market of Possibilities’ where ecumenical collaborators from around the world were encouraged to imagine together.”
Halliday was similarly moved.
“Kirchentag embodies some of what it means to be church in the community and church in the world,” she said. “At Kirchentag, the church is not only gathered in the four walls of a building, but the people of the church are spilled out across the city and present in outdoor worship, a myriad of workshops, learning opportunities, play and engagement.
“For those days, wherever we were in the city, there was the church being present in creative ways.”
Jessica Quinn is the online communications specialist for the UCC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C.
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